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From tomb to museum: the story of the Sarpedon Krater

The Greek vase by Euphronios, featuring a scene from the Trojan War, is a masterpiece of ancient art. It was looted from an Etruscan tomb and sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The vase's journey sparked a debate about the ethics of art acquisition and the importance of preserving archaeological sites. Euphronios, Sarpedon Krater, (signed by Euxitheos as potter and Euphronios as painter), c. 515 B.C.E., red-figure terracotta, 55.1 cm diameter (National Museum Cerite, Cerveteri, Italy) Speakers: Dr. Erin Thompson and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • leaf green style avatar for user Manna Tsao
    Throughout the video, the speakers are stressing about the problems of tomb robbing, but how can archaeological digs not be considered tomb robbing as well?
    (25 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user drszucker
      Excellent question - modern archaeological digs are done with the permission of the host nation and do everything possible to document everything uncovered. This is a painstaking process that adds to our collective knowledge and stands in sharp contrast to the permanent damage that tomb robbers inflict since they document nothing and discard everything without ready market value including ceramic shards, human remains, etc.
      (51 votes)
  • marcimus pink style avatar for user Sierra
    How does keeping something in a tomb keep it in good condition? In the video, they said something about tomb raiders digging up artifacts, doesn't that mean the artifact in under soil, clay, etc? If so, why do pot and jars stay in better condition then things like bones or stone figures?
    (7 votes)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user Mariska Veldman
      I'm not an expert on this, but tombs are usually cave-like rooms that are closed off. That's why artifacts stay in good condition: there's usually a steady temperature and humidity, no sunlight and most importantly no human interference (until the looters come).
      As for the 'digging up' part: sometimes there's actual digging needed, but it's also a figure of speech for archaeologists. I'm not sure if vases are always in better condition than bones or stone figures, but I guess this also depends on the materials the artifacts are made of and the care with which they are dug up.
      (15 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Melissa
    At - How do we know that there was no reading silently in the ancient world?
    (8 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user sydneykollm98
    Why would people steal things from the dead?
    (6 votes)
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  • starky tree style avatar for user Cloud_Song
    I do like art but tombs sounds creepy they sound like the tombs are abandon and it is creepy when this video include the grave robbers do grave robbers rob graves?
    (4 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      A LOT of people find tombs creepy, that may be why tombs become abandoned after the memory of the person whose body was "entombed" there has faded. But when that person died, when the memory was fresh, people cared enough to entomb treasures with their friends and relatives. When the memories have faded, and often even before that, grave robbers go after the treasures. After all, someone who has died and been buried can't fight back.
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user silasmarho2
    Why the dead is naked ?
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Cayden Henry
    were does come from ,who came up with art
    (2 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Duong Nhi
    At the end of the video, they say that reproductions can help deter looting. But how does it work? Where will reproductions be placed? Thank you.
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      The original is kept in a safe place. The reproductions are spread all around. If people want the originals for their beauty, then reproductions can be just as beautiful. If people want the originals so that they can trade them and make money off of them, then nothing is safe, and nobody can appreciate the beauty.
      (2 votes)
  • purple pi teal style avatar for user Lucifer01
    When did the trojan war occur and what does it have to do with art?
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      The actual historical happening of the (or a) Trojan war is questionable. But the STORY of the Trojan war has inspired a lot of art. It's kind of like how the actual historical existency of Paul Bunyan is questionable, but the story of Paul Bunyan has inspired many chain-saw sculptures of big blue oxen.
      (1 vote)
  • starky seedling style avatar for user Tabitha  Briones
    I love paintings and art even though it is useless and we are going to use them in anything except art stores and art museums I feel that art can tell one emotion and pain that we hide deep down in our hearts that we can't explain so easily I feel like art helps to express what you feel instead of letting it out on yourself cause we all have struggled with different things and we express differently we all have our own lives we go through different emotions there is sadness anger and helplessness and pain and loneliness we experience so many emotions that we don't know how to cope so we cop with the only thing that we think can help us but it just making things worse that is why we can talk with people that can help us to get through it our we pray to god wich that should be the first thing we do our we can talk to someone that we trust we can do all sorts of things but doinging things that can efect us more is not good so its always better to talk to someone that can help you now back to the art it is motivating and i feel this is a beautiful art pece so that is something we can all learn from :) and for your infermation this is not a question :) ehehhehehehheheheeh;)
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

(soft piano music) - [Man] When I was in high school one of my favorite objects to visit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a Greek vase by an artist whose name is Euphronios. - [Woman] This vase is decorated by Euphronios with the scene from the Trojan war. Sarpedon, a son of Zeus has died in the battle field and one thing that the Greeks were afraid of if they died on the battle field it was that their bodies would be neglected. So Zeus has sent two messengers the wing deitys Sleep and Death to take Sarpedon on back home. - [Man] They're lifting him up so that his torso is exposed to us so that we can see the beautiful delicate work in that abdomen. - [Woman] And the Greeks thought that actually the best time to die was when you are young and beautiful. You'd never have to know the indignities of growing old. - [Man] And the painters expressed that not only for the beauty of the human body the definition of the musculature but also in a particularly signal Greek way representing the face as serene even in the face of death and imperfect profile. - [Woman] And you can tell Euphronios must have been very proud of this face because he signed it right across the top on one side of the head of Hermes the messenger god who is guiding Sarpedon soul Euphronios painted me. - [Man] Like the pot is speaking. - [Woman] And the viewers of this pot would have read these texts out loud. There is no such thing as reading out loud in the ancient world. So you can imagine them drinking wine talking about Hypnose and Thanatose and Euphronios. - [Man] This pot is in exceptionally good condition and that's especially clear in the decorative banding that surrounds the major frieze where we see the figures. There are these beautiful palmettes where the drawing remains wonderfully sharp. - [Woman] Which is even more incredible when you consider that Euphronios would have painted this very quickly before the pot dried too much. - [Man] And we can see the individual lines would have been laid down with a syringe to make a bead of color and we're seeing it in a state that is not very different from the way it would have been seen when it was first made about 2500 years ago. Which is why this pot was so sort after when it came on into the market. - [Woman] In 1972 the Metropolitan museum of Art paid a million dollars for this vase. - [Woman] The director of the Metropolitan said that this vase was so important it would rewrite art history. - [Woman] He thought the drawing was the quality of a Picasso of a Leonardo de Vinci. - [Man] Its is a stella example of attic red figure vase painting a style that we believe this artist introduced. And it allowed for the detailed representation of the human body that was so important to the Greeks as they moved towards the classical period. - [Woman] And the reason it's so well preserved is it spent those 2500 years in a tomb in the Italian town of Cerveteri. It was purchased by the ancient Etruscans and buried-- - [Man] So the pot was made near Athens and was exported. Bought by an Etruscan that is the culture that existed just before Rome and was buried in a tomb. The Etruscans are known for their elaborate burials. - [Woman] Which preserve things like this for us but which provide a very tempting target for tomb robbers who try and find things in Etruscan tombs to sell on the art market. And that's exactly what happened in the early 1970s. - [Man] When a thief identifies a tomb and begins to dig they're looking for the most valuable treasures which means that they're willing to destroy everything else that they find along the way. Tomb robbery does a reparable harm not only to objects but to archeological evidence. - [Woman] For example we don't know whether the owner of the tomb ever used this vase or not. Because by the time it got to Metropolitan Museum it had been cleaned and out back together. If archeologists excavate the tomb the can see the residues on the inside of pottery to see whether they held a last funerary meal. - [Man] And that knowledge is lost permanently it will never be recovered. This incredibly important vase could have been even more valuable. - [Woman] By analyzing residues in pottery found in tombs we can do things like track ecological conditions. See what climate change has been like from 2500 years ago to the present. - [Man] So how did the pot make its way from a previously unknown tomb to the Greek and Roman galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then back to Italy where it is now. - [Woman] It all started with a car crash. Police went investigating fan that the glove box was stuffed full of photographs of dirty broken antiquities and after doing a lot of investigating they eventually found he was part of a smuggling ring that was headed by a figure named Giacomo Medici who had a warehouse in Switzerland filled full of antiquities and filled full of records. Records of this vase being sold to a dealer who sold it the Metropolitan Museum of Art. - [Man] This vase actually changed more than art history. It changed the way that we understand these elaborate networks of elicit trade. - [Woman] Prior to the purchase of this vase there've been plenty of looted antiquities bought by American Museums but nobody really cared. The museums knew that they're probably looted but this vase caused so much publicity. It was so beautiful people wanted to know more about it. And then they were horrified at the thought that this ancient culture was being destroyed in order to produce a few master works like this in American Museums. - [Man] The Museum should have known better. But they were offered a cover story that offered just enough plausible deniability that it allowed the museum to turn a blind eye. Which was at this historical moment not so uncommon. - [Woman] True, the story they got was that this vase had been owned by a Lebanese art collector and that his grandfather had bought it in London in the early 1990s. But they really should have asked more questions. - [Man] So the vase ended up at The Met on a lovely pedestal in the middle of the Greek galleries and The Met was rightfully very proud of it. But our awareness of the damage that is done by grave robbing develops in the next couple of decades and this vase becomes increasingly problematic. - [Woman] And once the Italians raided that warehouse in Switzerland there is no longer any deniability for The Met. One of the things that the Italian authorities found in this warehouse was a polaroid of meta chip proudly pausing next to the Sarpedon vase in the Metropolitan Museum. Interestingly the way that international law works there was no legal right for the Italians to reclaim this vase. But the public relations aspect of it was so bad that The Met in 2006 did return it to Italy. - [Man] When the vase was repatriated that is when it was returned to Italy it went into the Etruscan museum in Rome with a lot of pomp and ceremony. This was a great achievement by the Italian law enforcement agencies. - [Woman] It was ultimately returned to Cervetari the town where it was dug up from illegally so many years ago. So now instead of millions of people seeing it thousands of people do. - [Man] What is our responsibility now in the modern world? Where should objects reside? - [Woman] And another thing that changes that question is the issue of the technological reproductions that we can make. - [Man] And so maybe our technologies do change the equation. - [Woman] Of course looking at our reproduction it's never gonna be as good as looking at the original. But if we look at our reproductions we're not increasing the risk of looting. So I think the sacrifice of looking at reproductions is worthwhile to make sure that these sites aren't looted anymore that we never lose the archeological information that goes along with the beauty of these ancient images. (soft piano music)